The 16-15 Brooklyn Nets, fresh off a 104-73 drubbing at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs in which they scored a franchise record-low five points in the third quarter, have the distinct honor of traveling to Oklahoma City tonight to take on the 24-6 Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder are 16-2 at home, outscoring opponents by an average of 11.4 points per game in OKC, and employ Kevin Durant, who I’ve heard is pretty good at basketball.
In honor of tonight’s matchup, here are three things to watch for in tonight’s game:
1) Lineups. Since Kris Humphries left the rotation under, let’s call them “murky,” circumstances, the Nets have done well with their small-ball starting lineup of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Keith Bogans, Gerald Wallace, and Brook Lopez. But the Thunder pose a different set of problems that may render that lineup irrelevant: with Durant at small forward and an enormous Serge Ibaka-Kendrick Perkins frontcourt, the Nets can’t afford to risk having Wallace guarding anyone but Durant for long stretches of this one.
Durant’s post game has made serious strides this season, increasing his workload and efficiency in the post, shooting 52% from the field and trailing only Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony in post-up effectiveness. His ability to back down and loft shots over smaller guards would turn Keith Bogans, a fine defender in his own right, into Durantmeat. The Nets can’t exactly switch Bogans onto Ibaka or Perkins, either. They might be able to get away with Joe Johnson on Durant for a few possessions, but Wallace is the player ideally suited to guard Durant. Not so much for Ibaka or Perkins.
2) D-Will. Every day, the “narrative” surrounding D-Will — whatever that means to a guy who shoots a 9-inch orange sphere into an 18-inch ring ten feet above the floor — seems to push more towards the idea that he’s just not a good shooter anymore, that he doesn’t (or can’t) attack the rim like he used to, that he’s lost his quickness and, as Howard Beck said earlier today, may not even be a top-10 player at his now over-saturated position.
Williams has himself said that he hasn’t had a good game by his own standards this season, but the last time these two teams faced (a 117-110 Nets loss in Brooklyn), Williams had perhaps his best game of the season, scoring 33 points on 10-20 shooting, hitting five threes.
3) Turnovers into transition. The Thunder, for all their strengths, do have two weaknesses. The first: they’re one of the league’s worst teams defending in transition, ranking just 26th in the NBA defending the break. The Nets run rarely — they’re one of the slowest-paced teams in the league — and even though they’ve discussed pushing the ball more under P.J. Carlesimo, their pace remains largely unchanged.
This isn’t to say that Brooklyn should just try running and gunning for the hell of it, especially against a team with three athletic freaks in its starting lineup. But this leads into their second weakness: despite being one of the best offensive teams in the NBA, the Thunder turn the ball over — a lot. They’re second-to-last in the NBA in turnover rate, turning the ball over on almost 15% of their possessions. If the Nets can get some of those quick turnovers — C.J. Watson and Andray Blatche seem particularly talented at this off the bench — that might open this game’s window ever so slightly.